Tron at the Birmingham Modern SCG IQ – Teaching An Old Prof New Tricks, by Craig Jones


Tron Tournament Discussion: Modern SCG IQ Birmingham, by Craig Jones

Okay, so after some slight teething problems (sort of like Smuggler’s Copter in Standard) at keeping an article to a length the average reader can read over their lunchbreak, we’re now on the bit I should have posted yesterday (or even Tuesday!) if I hadn’t let the whole thing sprawl over 5,000 words.

Who am I?

Oh, I’m Craig Jones, just a humble Magic tournament grinder with no previous finishes at all, honest guv, and this is my diary as I try to play as many events as I can in 2017.

First up we have a StarCityGames Invitational Qualifier at in Birmingham. Or more realistically, as the Atlantic is rather wide and takes a long time to fly over, a big Modern tournament with a £400 first prize.

Modern is an awkward format for me. I worked abroad for seven years and while I kept playing to some extent on MTGO as well as following the PT and GP event coverage, not having any physical cards between Lorwyn and Khans of Tarkir is a wee bit of a handicap when it comes to building Modern decks.

The other problem is a lack of knowledge and experience. Modern is not like old Extended, where you turned up with the broken deck and beat the people who hadn’t realised there was a broken deck. Modern has a wide variety of deck archetypes and can be daunting to those that don’t know the format.

Last year I sat out the two Modern WMCQs as well as the entire Modern PPTQ season with the justification I didn’t have a deck, didn’t understand the format and would be throwing money away on train fares and tournament entry fees to get thrashed by players that knew the ins and outs of the various matchups better than me. This reasoning is sound, but it’s also self-defeating. If I never took the first steps to get a deck and gain experience playing it, I’d always be thinking the tournaments weren’t worth entering from a value perspective.

So, towards the end of 2016 I started going to the Modern tournaments. It was rough. At the last Axion Mega GPT I lost the first three rounds and only managed to beat an empty chair. I suspected the SCG IQ would be more of the same, but felt I had to get in there and take my beatings if I ever wanted to improve enough to stop dodging the format whenever it showed up on the calendar.

From this you can surmise that this article isn’t going to contain any earth-shattering new Modern tech, and you’d be right. However, there might, hopefully, be some useful tips for new or returning players that also find the Modern format daunting.

First up, deck selection.

Deck Selection

Modern is expensive. Normally cost shouldn’t be a consideration for any serious tournament player—you play the best deck—but let’s also be realistic, we’re not at the Pro Tour here and quite a few Modern staples are on the pricey side. I’m fortunate in that I have a lot of cards from the very early days of Modern, which gives me a starting point. This is always an efficient way to get into an older format—look at what cards you have and then look to build the deck that needs the least cards/£s. Then once you have that deck, look to build the next deck that shares the most overlap with the cards you have. It’s not optimal—you should always play the best deck for you—but it will enable you to get a foothold in the older, more expensive formats, and from there you can gradually broaden your options. It also helps that I’m a collector junkie and rarely get rid of anything.

Currently I have two Modern decks (three if I count GriSHOALbrand. I’m not counting GriSHOALbrand).

Dredge coming back into contention as a tier one deck was handy. I have Ravnica cards. A playset of Bloodghasts and Copperline Gorges off the internet later and I was good to go. It is a very strong and resilient deck, but I couldn’t get it to click for me at either the last chance PPTQ or the Mega GPT. It also had a strong showing at the last British RPTQ, so I had a feeling anyone playing Dredge would encounter a lot of hate.

My other deck option was Tron. I started to put Tron together after realising it had a fair bit of overlap with the 12 Post deck I played at the Legacy Grand Prix in Prague last year (I know, I know. I have no excuse, I even own Force of Wills and duals). Typically, by the time I’d picked up all the cards for Red-Green Tron, it had faded out of the metagame due to unfavourable matchups with Infect, Death’s Shadow Aggro and other hyper-aggressive decks.

However, Tron has made a resurgence with a white splash for Path to Exile and Blessed Alliance in the sideboard. It also, allegedly, has a pretty good matchup versus current format bogeyman, Dredge.

The only thing I needed was the cards for the white splash, which unfortunately included Path to Exile. Paying £8-£10 each for a card that will likely be reprinted in Modern Masters 2017 was painful, but I’ve been wanting to give my original Antiquities Tron lands a run for a while and wanted to avoid a repeat of my last performance with Dredge.

Here is the list I played:

Green-White Tron (60)
Karn Liberated
Ugin, the Spirit Dragon
Wurmcoil Engine
World Breaker
Ulamog, the Ceaseless Hunger
Ancient Stirrings
Sylvan Scrying
Chromatic Sphere
Chromatic Star
Expedition Map
Relic of Progenitus
Oblivion Stone
Path to Exile
Urza’s Tower
Urza’s Mine
Urza’s Power Plant
Ghost Quarter
Sanctum of Ugin
Razorverge Thicket

SB (15)
Ghost Quarter
Blessed Alliance
Rest in Peace
Warping Wail
Nature’s Claim
Grim Poppet

It’s a fairly stock list with a fairly straightforward game plan—assemble tron on turn 3 or 4 and start unloading massive haymakers on opponent. I’d offer more, but as this tournament was the first time I’d picked up the deck, I’m not even going to try to pretend I’m an expert with it.

As for the tournament itself.

Tournament Venue

I’ve been wanting to play one of Manaleak’s tournaments for a while, mainly because I remember Tu (the owner) from back in the day when he used to be a fairly tough control player on the Midlands circuit and I hadn’t seen him in over a decade. It’s been great following him online as he grew a collection of binders into a nice gaming store with new premises not far from New Street station in the centre of Birmingham.

My original plan was to take the train across from Telford, but then I found out two players from my local area, Andy Horton and Jack Chetwood, were also planning on going and Andy kindly offered to give me a lift.

The first challenge was figuring out how to get in the store as it requires pressing a buzzer on the ground entrance and opening a door which sets off an alarm. This resulted in a few confused Magic players milling around outside before someone figured it out. The store is up on the first floor and has room both inside and in the lobby area outside to hold a medium-sized tournament. This was good as the tournament had proven popular and turnout had come within one player of the cap of 108 players. Pretty damn good for an SCG IQ on another continent and props to head judge Andrew Quinn for pushing for it and then making sure the large tournament ran smoothly.

Magic-The-Gathering-Tournament-Manaleak-SCG-IQ mtg

The Tournament

107 players meant 7 round of Swiss followed by a Top 8, with 5-1-1 or better likely being the required record.

Tournament reports usually make the mistake of giving blow by blow accounts of what happened, which isn’t all that helpful. Instead I’ll highlight what I learnt, if anything, from each of the rounds. Unfortunately, I didn’t learn to write down my opponents’ names legibly, so apologies for missing them off.

Round 1: Jeskai Ascendency

Having a lot of experience in general was very handy in round 1. It meant I was able to successfully work out my opponent was on some kind of Jeskai Ascendency combo and be aware it can kill out of nowhere on turn 3 with just a Bird of Paradise and Ascendency. As a result I left mana open for the Nature’s Claim I’d boarded in just in case instead of tapping out for Sylvan Scrying. I was pleased to actually be aware enough to not screw this up for the first round of the morning.


Round 2: Jund

The second round highlighted exactly why Tron is a very good deck for people who aren’t too experienced with Modern. I was paired against Jund. This is a very good matchup for Tron, but a lot of credit goes to my opponent for knowing the matchup and doing everything possible to make it hard for me. Unfortunately for him, I managed to lucksack missing Tron pieces at perfect points to overpower him. Also maximum credit to him for being on the wrong end of that lucksacking and taking it with good grace. I’ve known players that would have been spitting teeth in that position, especially as I gave the impression I didn’t know what was going on for most of the match.

Tron has a reputation for being a big dumb deck, but if you’re not totally familiar with the ins and outs of a format, sometimes big and dumb with an utterly overpowering endgame is where you want to be. That round cemented my opinion that Tron is the ideal pick for my current level of Modern expertise.


Round 3: Dredge

Next up was a brutal lesson in how powerful Cathartic Reunion on turn two is in Dredge. Dredge should be a good matchup, but I was unable to dig for a Relic in time in the first game and he had a Nature’s Claim for the one I played on turn one of the second.


Round 4: Blue-White Control

Control is normally a good matchups for decks like Tron as you generally out-mana and out-power them. After boarding they can disrupt Tron mana by Ghost Quartering one of the Tron pieces and then taking all copies out of the game with Surgical Extraction. Keeping in Relic allows you to counter the Extraction.

Also there’s no need to play into Mana Leak if you can avoid it. In the first game I had natural Tron, but waited a turn to lay an additional Tower before playing Karn so I’d have an additional three mana available to pay for Leak (which my opponent revealed afterwards he’d been holding in hand).

I think my opponent was a little too harsh on themselves for an early sequencing error that saw them attempt to Surgically Extract a Tron piece before dropping Stony Silence to shut off my Relic. And again later by not Surgically Extracting my first Karn, even though they couldn’t really know I’d draw two in a row. In the end I never found Tron again, but drew enough lands for it not to matter. I thought they’d managed to wrestle the third game away from me with Elspeth, Sun’s Champion after I’d put them under a lot of pressure with an early World Breaker and Thragtusk, but they didn’t draw well in the mid-game and I hit a sequence of Karn (to prevent Elspeth ultimating and killing me), Karn (to remove Stony Silence and turn my rocks back on) and finally a Ghost Quarter to take out a Colonnade. I realised just how badly they’d drawn when my lowly beast token came through unhindered to take the match. I think they were angry with themselves with a couple of their decisions. It’s important to not beat yourself up too hard when that happens—there are still rounds left to play.


Round 5: Jund

The first match I’d had against Jund had been scrappy. The second was a massacre. I mulliganned to 5 in the first game, but still managed to rip them apart with a single World Breaker that refused to remain dead. The second was even more one-sided as they never saw any of their sideboarded Fulminator Mages and after hitting tron I found a seemingly endless sequence of massive haymakers culminating in the unstoppable Ceaseless Hunger.

Incidentally, this match had the only moment where Path to Exile did something Lightning Bolt couldn’t, as I used one to remove a Kalitas, Traitor of Ghet that was otherwise preventing me getting full value from Wurmcoil Engines.


Round 6: Suicide Blue

This should be a horrible matchup, but the fact I didn’t even know what he was playing until about turn three of the second game was an indication of how atrociously bad his draws were. No second land in game one and no red source until around turn 5 in game two, despite multiple card draw. I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t happy with the easy 2-0, but you always feel for someone when their deck completely punks out at a critical juncture of a tournament. We’ve all been there. (Some of us more than most. Sigh.)


I must admit, given my lack of confidence in Modern, I didn’t expect to find myself in a position to potentially draw in on the last round.

Potentially… When the round six standings went up it was clear there were a lot of players on 15 points and most of them would have to play. I opted for a very risky ID that had a good chance of dropping me to 9th. My reasoning was I still don’t feel too confident about Modern and I’d seen a lot of Infect and similar aggro decks hovering around the top tables. Had I been more confident in my deck and my ability to play it I probably would have chosen to play as the risk of IDing in to 9th was too great. This time it paid off and I finished 8th by 0.22% or something ridiculous. This doesn’t change the fact it was a very risky call I was lucky to get away with.

5-1-1 and Top 8 in exactly 8th position.

Discussions about Top 8 prize splits are inevitable in larger money tournaments. One system I’ve seen introduced, and works quite well, is a card system. Each player anonymously puts in either a green card, indicating they want to split, or a red card, indicating they want to play. If all cards are green then the cash purse is distributed evenly amongst the Top 8, if at least one card is red, all players have to play. By making it anonymous it removes any potential peer pressure on the one person that might prefer to play. And to be fair, if you have the choice to go first and you think you have a good matchup, the correct decision is to play and try and lock up more winnings.

In my case I was on the draw against Affinity and couldn’t put my green card in fast enough!

Alas, someone had put in a red card. Not that I hold it against them—if you think you’re favoured, there’s nothing wrong with wanting to try and win more money.

Quarter Finals: Alexander Swan with Affinity

Before the match we had a conversation that roughly went like this:

Alexander – “It’s really weird playing you.”

Me – “Really? Why?”

Alexander – “You were playing when my dad was playing. I’m Martin Swan’s son.”

Me – “Oh yeah, I remember Martin.” Looks at him more closely. “I can see the resemblance. What’s Martin up to nowadays…?”

Me (inside, in a cold heartless place) – “I’m so old. *sob*.”

It is definitely a weird experience to play against some people and realise you’ve been playing Magic longer than they’ve been alive. I suppose it’s also testament to the strength of the game—to survive and be enjoyed by so many for as long as it has.

As for the actual games they were pretty brutal and one-sided. My lack of Modern experience finally caught up with me. Mostly I’d been mulliganning pretty well, but for this game I had an awkward hand that had two Tron pieces, Sylvan Scrying, action, but no green source. I suspected that might be a hand I should mulligan on the draw versus Affinity, but it’s hard to turn down two Tron pieces, a way to fetch a third so long as you draw any green mana source, and action. As it was, I didn’t draw a green mana source or the 3rd Tron piece and was torn apart on turn 4.

Game two was more inexperience. Seeing that Alexander had mulliganned to five and thinking Affinity played no basics, I aggressively used a Ghost Quarter on his Blinkmoth Nexus on turn 2. I don’t know why I’d think Affinity wouldn’t have at least a couple of basic lands in a format where both Ghost Quarter and Path to Exile are commonly played. Stupidity, I guess. I did say I was pretty bad at Modern. But this is why we’re putting in the tournament reps so we don’t make these foolish mistakes in future. It was academic anyway. Alexander had a very slow draw as expected from a double mulligan, but despite being able to assemble Tron, I had nothing to use it on and no permanent green source to dig for haymakers either.

I think I misevaluated the game after boarding. When cards like Nature’s Claim and Blessed Alliance go in—having green-white lands becomes more important than assembling Tron. But that’s how you get better at the game—learning from your mistakes.

So, in summary:

  • SCG IQ
  • £25 entry (pre-reg)
  • 107 players
  • Top 8 finish (QF)
  • Winnings: £50, top 8 playmat and pin

Ding! Profit.

That’s a nice start to the year.

Tron seems a very good choice for people that are looking to get into Modern. It’s fairly straightforward to play and is robust. It’s also not a deck of fine margins—when you’re on top, you’re usually overwhelmingly on top, which takes the pressure off some late-game decision-making. On the downside, cards like Karn and even the commons/uncommons like Ancient Stirrings and Expedition Map aren’t exactly budget, although hopefully some will be reprinted in the upcoming Modern Masters 2017.

Potential Updates

Aether Revolt is around the corner and the main change that will bring is to open up the possibility of Green-Black Tron with Fatal Push in the Lightning Bolt/Path to Exile slot. Fatal Push will do exactly what Path to Exile does for the most part, except it won’t give them a free basic land. The question then is what black offers for the sideboard. Unfortunately, most of the mass removal requires BB, which might be hard to hit, although Damnation is a good reason to try it. Requiring GB is a similar strike against Abrupt Decay. If only Toxic Deluge was legal or there was a 1B card that gave -2/-2 to all creatures. Maybe Nausea might just about kill enough 1 toughness creatures to fill a role, although it seems a little narrow.

I expect all three versions will be around as they each have different strengths. Green-Red if you expect more Affinity, Green-White if you’re more worried about Burn, and Green-Black for the Become Immense decks.

Anyway, that was a pleasing start to the year.

Next week we’re off to the Aether Revolt pre-releases. (or probably right about now, given I was a bit late getting this finished.)

Until then,


Tron at the Birmingham Modern SCG IQ - Teaching An Old Prof New Tricks, by Craig Jones
Craig "Prof" Jones is coming back to the Magic scene in a big way. Please join Prof in his new series as he tries to navigate through the tournament scene, explore local gaming stores, engage with the current meta and the local communities, and relays his findings.

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